Hospice Is Hope: Dementia education ready for doctors

Trained dementia caregivers like Sonja Marti help create moments of joy with reading, gardening, music, art and pet therapy. (Hospice of the Valley/Submitted)

By Lin Sue Flood
Hospice of the Valley

It’s staggering to think that 6.5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. You may even know a relative, friend or neighbor who has it. With the highest growth rate for dementia in the nation, Arizona is projected to reach 200,000 cases by 2025.

Family members who are suddenly thrust into the “caregiver role” are desperate for support, unprepared to face a disease that lasts years and becomes more challenging as it progresses. The lack of health care professionals trained in dementia care affects us all.

The good news is… there is help — and it’s literally coming right to your doctor’s office. Hospice of the Valley’s Dementia Care and Education Campus is launching an unprecedented education project aimed at training more than 3,000 health providers over the next 14 months to enhance dementia care for those with early and moderate stages of the disease. The extensive campaign is being funded by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

“Half of all primary care physicians feel the medical profession has little to no preparation for serving the burgeoning numbers of people living with dementia,” says Hospice of the Valley Dementia Program Director Maribeth Gallagher, citing a recent Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures Report. 

“There is a tremendous and critical need for dementia care education and training that will help providers deliver evidence-based skillful and compassionate care. And that need will only grow as the incidence of dementia rises each year.”

This education project covers a wide variety of topics, from assessing and diagnosing mild dementia to understanding which medications help or harm dementia patients. The presentations also give doctors practical tools they can share with family caregivers, such as the soothing effects of “Vitamin M” — music — or ways to decode behaviors that express unmet needs like fear, anxiety or pain.

Hospice of the Valley already offers an in-home Supportive Care for Dementia program at no charge to family caregivers who are caring for loved ones — from pre-diagnosis through the early and middle stages of dementia. This new initiative focuses exclusively on medical professionals, equipping them with tools to help their patients manage early and moderate stages of the disease with knowledge and dignity.

“We can educate providers — and through them, families — to improve quality of life for people living with all types and all stages of dementia,” says Supportive Care for Dementia Medical Director Gillian Hamilton. “Physician offices are the first stop for families concerned about memory loss, and how they talk to families sets the stage for the whole journey through dementia.”

Hospice of the Valley Executive Medical Director Ned Stolzberg is confident this unique training opportunity will be widely embraced.

“Having been in primary care myself, I know how helpless physicians and nurse practitioners can feel when confronted with patients struggling with dementia,” he says. “Not only problems related to diagnosis and treatment, but also the myriad challenges that arise in the social realm. Awareness of even the basic tools to address some of this will greatly empower our medical community.”

Call 602-767-8300 or email education@dementiacampus.org to schedule presentations for health care providers.

Lin Sue Flood is director of Community Engagement at Hospice of the Valley. For information on services and programs, visit hov.org.